Snapshot: Women!

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I have always loved being part of groups of women. Living in Niger, building relationships with local people is one of our major goals during this first year, so I knew that finding the groups of women would be an important way for me to culturally integrate.

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Our church has a group of women who meet on Saturdays – they call themselves “Les Femmes Vertueuses” (which means, “the Virtuous women”), taken from the well-known passage in Proverbs 31 in the Bible.

This group was really intimidating for me to join, mainly because my conversational French was still so terrible last summer that I simply didn’t think I could do it! But deep in my heart I just knew I was supposed to go, as if it was an open door from the Lord for me to walk through. So I swallowed my pride and fear, and I went.

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What I found was a beautiful group of very eclectic ladies, who all desire to be excellent as wives, mothers, and daughters. Some are well-educated and well-dressed, and others are poor and simple. Some are outgoing and some are shy. Some have pain on their countenance, while others seem indefatigable.

They are usually at least 30 minutes late – even the leader of the group! – (though they won’t change the starting time). Our meetings include singing songs in both French and Hausa, sharing a bit from God’s word, and praying. These ladies are champions! They’ve been patient, kind, and opened their arms to allow me to be part of their special group.

One major milestone happened in August. We had been practicing the same song quite a bit for a few weeks, and one day the ladies started talking about “the wedding”. I came to find out that we were going to sing this song at the wedding! Wow! And I found out that we needed to have special outfits made to match (husbands’ outfits too! See photo), and that they really wanted me to sing one of the solos.

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Wait, what? I am not afflicted with false modesty when I say that my singing days are over, at least in the solo sense! I was not looking forward to this! I tried to get out of it, but they were so excited and I think they really wanted me to feel “in”, so I said yes.

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(Picture above is our last-minute rehearsal before the wedding)

Well, the wedding just happened to be the wedding of the decade in Niamey! About 400 people were there! (That is  a huge wedding around here!) I was really scared! But I just prayed for courage and WENT FOR IT. (You can view the unbearably long video here if have nothing to do for 8 minutes! My part in the song doesn’t happen until about 2/3 through…)

This wedding experience truly broke through the proverbial ice in my relationships with the ladies. Now, they affectionately call me “la Blanche” (the white woman), and I am part of the choir. My conversational French has grown leaps and bounds as well!

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Last week, the ladies asked Andy and I to teach one night of their two-night “Annual Celebration of Women”. The theme was “building healthy families” and it was truly an honor to receive this invitation. (The other speaker was the president of all of the Christian churches in Niger!) We shared the basic principles of building a healthy Christian marriage, and everything went so well.

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I am amazed. I look back on this experience – breaking through my fears, following through when I felt led to do something, and seeing the rewards – and I am truly humbled. Courage and obedience are a powerful combination.

Is there something YOU have been hesitant to do? Why not step out and trust those deep-down instincts, and perhaps God has some surprise blessings for you!

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Our “office”

I’ve been told that there is not one single counseling office in Niamey, maybe even in all of Niger! Well, if that is true, then I am happy to share with you that we have just created the very first.

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The home we are renting is not large, but the property is pretty big, with lots of trees and places for me to plant flowers and bushes. It also has a small “out building” – meaning, there is a fully finished building that is not connected to the house. Many years ago it was used as an office, but when we arrived it was very run-down and simply being used as a storage space.

About a month ago we decided that it was time to make use of that great space! We hired a local guy to come and replace the windows and rotten window sills, take out the non-functioning water cooler, patch up the walls, repair the mosquito netting on the windows and give it all a new paint job.

Voila!

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Now we have a private place to meet with couples and individuals. It is peaceful and lovely and we are so very thankful!

Already we have been able to share it with others in creative ways! One couple, who we’ve been meeting with for a couple of months now, needed a place to spend about two hours just talking through one of our assignments. Going to a restaurant was going to be difficult for them so we bought some cokes and invited them to use our meeting room for their “date”.

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Also, on Thursday nights a group of young men from the university come to this special room to pray together.

It may seem like a small thing, but I believe this place is going to be a blessing in the lives of many people.

Snapshot: A visit to “God’s Well”

This is not the usual thing for an ordinary citizen to have in their front yard around here.

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But with Jesus Christ in your heart, a person can tend to dream big. God gives ideas that seem impossible. But if we can believe and not give up, we just might see those dreams come true!

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I’ve introduced you to my friend Hadiza before. (Though it has been awhile!) Hadiza and I met the first time we lived here in 2012-2013. She is truly a woman of faith! For this snapshot, I want to show you her most recent dream-come-true.

Hadiza dreamed of having clean water for her neighborhood. The nearest well is an open well, which means the water is dirty and anything at all could fall into it (animals included!) to contaminate it.

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The “open” well

This water causes sickness and is physically difficult to get enough daily water for each family in the whole neighborhood. The nearest clean water well is so far away that a person would need to have a donkey cart to carry the water such a long distance!

Until now.

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Hadiza prayed for God to give her a well. She mentioned this dream to a few people, but she had to wait quite a long time for it! She told me “I really want to have this well to share with my neighbors, and I can tell them that this is not my well, this is God’s well and He wants to bless us. I want this well to be a way to show people that God loves them! Of course these words flow out of her mouth and then she finishes with that gorgeous smile!

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This summer “God’s well” became a reality! With financial support from people in the USA, this well was installed and is a literal beacon of love to Hadiza’s neighborhood. (I am not even sure who they are – they wanted to be secret about it so God will receive all the glory. And also, so that the people here wouldn’t think this was a “white person’s well”… )

Hadiza told me that when they struck water and the first clean cup of water came out of the spout, they gave it to the oldest lady in the neighborhood. This muslim woman drank it and began dancing around and praising God!

Every day now, the people start arriving early in the morning to gather their clean water from God’s well.

So, I wonder what dreams God has given you and me? Let’s start BELIEVING!

Snapshot: Welcome to Church

Before I came to live in Niger, I had no idea what the church was going to be like. Did they meet in buildings? Did they have chairs or pews? What kind of music did they play? What instruments? Etc.

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Our songbook – “Be Joyful Always”

As you can probably guess, here in Niger there are all kinds of church families – denominations, sizes of churches (#’s of people), sizes and types of buildings, styles of worship and preaching…you get the idea. The Christian churches here are relatively young and undeveloped. I haven’t officially researched church-growth-facts-and-figures, but I can tell you that there is a beautiful simplicity to the church here. It’s not perfect, no way! There is plenty of room for growth – in fact, that is why we are here! We aren’t planting a new church. We came to encourage the believers who are already doing their best to live out their faith in this predominantly musl!m country.

I thought you might wonder what our church actually looks like here?

{For security reasons I am going to keep this description somewhat vague….I will share the photos but I will leave out names, location, etc.}

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The office and meeting room

 

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This is a little blurry (sorry!) but it is the whole building

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Inside the sanctuary during the service Sunday morning

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The choir! (They are amazing!)

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The band!

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Last Sunday we prayed for all the kids since they were heading back to school this week. (This made us think about that wonderful tradition at Christ Lutheran in Tacoma!)

 

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A page out of the songbook – we sing this song to end our service every week. Enter the words in to google translate & you might recognize this song from the 1990’s!

Well, that is just a snapshot for you – but now you can envision at least one of the church families here in Niamey.

I wonder if anything surprised you? Let me know! Or maybe this snapshot prompted some questions you have about the church here? Feel free to reply to this email, or send an email to nikkigray3@gmail.com.

Until next time – “soyez toujours joyeux“! (Be joyful always!)

 

Snapshot: Sahel Academy

The kids are back to school now, and I thought it was a good chance to give you a glimpse of Sahel Academy!

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On August 9th, Nathaniel started 10th grade (ten fingers), Jonathan 9th, and Ruth 7th – all of them at Sahel Academy (SA) here in Niamey.FullSizeRender (57)

SA is an International Christian School, grades K-12, with about 150 students. The students come from over 30 nations! Many are missionary kids, others live here because their families work at an embassy, for the US military, for an NGO (non-governmental organization), and some are local Nigeriens.

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The truth is – our family would not be able to serve here without this school for our kids. The teachers are Christian missionaries themselves, so the education our kids are receiving is coming from passionate, committed individuals. We are so thankful!

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Here is a link to a video Sahel Academy Video Link that was made recently – (it is 3.5 minutes long) – and you just might notice a silly red-haired girl who made it into the video! (Ruth) This is better than all of my random photos so I hope you have a chance to check it out!

Sidenote: Sahel Academy is always recruiting new teachers! Contact me if you are curious what that might look like! nikki.gray@sim.org

 

 

Snapshot: No small feat – Getting a driver’s license!

In the USA there are never-ending jokes about the long lines at the DMV (department of motor vehicles). Let it be known right now that NOTHING compares to the incredible (hassle) “experience” of getting a license here in Niger!

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We have used our temporary International Driver’s licenses since arrival, but the police – who pull people over often to check paperwork – do not like those…they want us to have the real license of Niger. Unfortunately, the process is entirely complicated! And recently they added even more requirements to the process, making it nearly impossible to acquire a Niger driver’s license.

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When we first lived here in 2012 – 2013 it took us nearly 8 months to obtain the Niger driver’s license, but when we left the country we had to turn it back in to the government (in order to receive back our USA licenses). When we returned in January 2017 we requested that they “find them” in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to go through the process again. Initially, they didn’t find them. Ugh! But last week – eight months later! – we received the good news that the old licenses had been found! Hooray!

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So here we are celebrating – with our colleague whose name is Constant. (He truly was thrilled about this “find” but we couldn’t get him to smile for the picture.)

We are thankful for every victory we experience here, and we have learned to take nothing for granted.

 

Snapshot: Do You See What I See?

Driving in Niamey is quite an adventure. I often say that I wish my eyes were cameras because everywhere I look there is something unusual or interesting to see, and I want to capture it all! I just went through my photos that I’ve taken since our arrival in January, to give you a glimpse of what we see each day.

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Cattle. Let me remind you, friends, that this is the capital city of Niger!

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You might be thinking – Oh! A handy place to buy liquor on the side of the road! Nope. These bottles are full of gasoline. Carts like this are everywhere along the roads.


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Yes – billboards! This one is funny because it is advertising a rich drink that people should enjoy during the month of Ramadan. There are many advertisements that make us all laugh because they depict a life that is so far from the realities of life in Niger – people in normal western-styled clothes with American-style houses, etc. I often wonder who makes these decisions?


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I’m not usually fast enough to catch photos of the many sights of what people are carrying on their motorcycles. Animals, rebar (long metal poles for construction), entire families, large wooden doors…the possibilities are endless! Here is a lady with her baby on her back simply wrapped with a cloth. At least she is wearing a helmet!


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Construction! But the techniques here might make you cringe. I personally have two uncles whom I know would take an interest – yikes! – in the scaffolding used to build these buildings too!


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I took this photo last week – it is a coming dust storm! This is a main road here, and I was stuck in traffic as the storm approached.

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Ruth took this out the side window! Besides the storm, you can see lots of garbage –  little black plastic bags and other garbage is everywhere, unfortunately.


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Crossing the Niamey bridge you can see the many people washing their clothes and drying them in the sun. (Warning: hippos lurk in these waters so it is a risky business!)

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I took this photo is 2013 – but you can see the hippos are RIGHT THERE next the bridge and the city!


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Shops. Here is Andy leaving one of our local shops we frequent. This one specializes in electronic stuff, garden stuff, cords, and the like. These small “shacks” are everywhere. Part of our cultural adjustment is simply learning where these shacks are located and what they each specialize in.

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This is a Tailor’s shop (One of our photos from 2013).


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This is not the best picture of a bush taxi, but I remember this one because I thought for sure it was going to tip over! I have MANY pictures of these little vans stuffed with people and their belongings.

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I took this one in 2012 – we were traveling to the Eastern part of Niger. How about those roads!?


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Camels! It is still so interesting to see these animals around the city!

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I know I left out so many things. Goats and sheep roaming everywhere. Chickens. Beautiful people walking and talking. Children playing. LIFE.

Thanks for walking through these roads with us. Hopefully now you have a little better picture in your mind of what we see every day. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshot: Rain!

This snapshot is for all you farmers out there – who truly understand the dependence upon God for your livelihood. (Love you Big Jim & Judy K!)

As you already know if you’ve been on this journey with us, Niger is one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. The government here has declared that a famine is in full swing. The economy is in awful shape, but some things simply continue as they have forever – the fields.

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Fields in Niamey behind Sahel Academy, where our kids go to school.

This country produces mostly millet and sorghum, but there are actually all kinds of things being grown here. I personally enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every time I head to the market.

But here is the catch – they MUST have adequate rain. You see, there aren’t all of the fancy irrigation techniques and technology here. They don’t have damns on the Niger river to save water and disperse it where they like. They do things the old-fashioned way – they wait.

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I took this photo in 2013 – here is a family living along the Niger River. They have easy access to water. But without modern irrigation methods, anyone living away from the river must wait for water the old-fashioned way – from the sky.

Right now, in the middle of hot season, everyone talks and dreams and aches for rain. The farmers want to get out there and plant but they must wait for the first big rain to be sure they won’t lose their seeds to the intense heat. I learned that it must rain again within two weeks of the first planting in order to have a crop…otherwise the seeds simply won’t survive.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I am from, hardly three days pass by without some moisture falling from the sky! Since we arrived here in January it has officially rained two times! TWO!

Here is a description from World Vision’s “water matters” website:

“Niger is one of the hottest, driest places in the world. Average temperatures are around 30 degrees C, but are capable of reaching over 50 degrees C in the hot season, between March and June. The air is so hot during these months that rain evaporates before it hits the ground. December through to February are cooler months and the temperature can actually drop to freezing in the night-time desert. The harmattan winds usually arrive just before the rains. They create dust storms that can cut visibility down to almost nothing. The rainy season comes to the southern parts of the country in late May to September, although rainfall is often unreliable.”

Two weeks ago we unexpectedly had our first really big rain! It came early, though. So I hear that some farmers took the gamble and planted their seeds in hope for more rain. Some didn’t. It hasn’t rained in Niamey since that day. What will this mean for those farmers?

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My dear friend Enseoung Kim, who is a missionary from Korea, took this photo when it rained two weeks ago.

When the rain starts falling – (often after a horrendous dust storm!) – the relief and excitement in the city is tangible! After our recent rain two weeks ago, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and there was a fresh, revitalizing breeze. I know loads of friends whose children ran outside to  jump around in it!

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Here are some children of missionary friends who knew just how to enjoy the rain! (Our kids haven’t lived here long enough, they just stayed in bed.) Photo credit: Chantelle McIver

It’s a veritable rain party!

Honestly, can my friends in Washington State even IMAGINE? A rain party!

I borrowed these photos of a Niamey dust storm so you could see what that is like. I am usually hiding inside a building making sure the windows are shut when this happens – NOT taking pictures!

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The dust storm arriving before the rain – hurry and get the laundry off the line! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

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It is so normal that the people are just walking ! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

Voila! Thanks for taking a look at this snapshot. Now, pray with me for an excellent rainy season here in Niger.

To learn more about the rain here, check out these links:

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4547

http://www.our-africa.org/niger/climate-agriculture

http://www.watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/geography.aspx

This is a link to the facts page for kids – learning about Niger from World Vision.

http://watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/  

 

 

 

Snapshot: A New Way to Buy Clothes

Back home I enjoy shopping for clothing treasures at Goodwill or Value Village, though my absolute favorite store is Eddie Bauer. Buying clothes here in Niamey is not as simple (since there aren’t any clothing stores like that), but the clothes are certainly more lovely! The clothes for women here in Niger are absolutely unique and beautiful. Driving down the road, it is a very real distraction to notice the stunning, flowing fabric of a woman’s dress as she walks along the road. For me, the goal is to be approachable for the  people here, to be culturally appropriate and break down as many “walls” as possible. I’m going to share the process with you here, though I regret my photography isn’t the best – sorry!

 

Here is how it works: First I must go to the market and buy some fabric.

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As you can see, there are SO MANY CHOICES! It takes awhile to sort through it all. A sweet woman will help unfold the fabric so I can stand back and really see it in full.

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This shop is usually full of people. The owner is a very friendly man who greets me with a wide smile and the traditional french phrases. I make my choice finally, but that is only the beginning! Now I must decide what style to have made. I like to borrow one from a friend to use as a “modèle” for the tailor.

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I found this tailor through my missionary friend (thanks Becky!).

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I bring my fabric and the modèle to his little shop. Then he will take my measurements (since the modèle is in my friend’s size!).

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Then, after making a negotiation for the price and finalizing the date for pick-up, I’m on my way! I’ll be back within a week or less to pick up my lovely outfit. I may need to make some minor adjustments, but the final result is really special.

Here are a few pictures to show some outfits that Ruth and I have had made since we’ve arrived in January…

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As you can see, this isn’t the quick option we have in the USA, but I enjoy it. Our language tutor told me recently that Nigeriens see a westerner in african clothes and it immediately has a warming effect, making them more approachable. They appreciate the modesty and effort to adapt to their culture in this way.

I’m curious… what’s YOUR favorite store?